Jul 28 2012

If You Follow My Advice, You Wouldn’t Follow My Advice!

I often tell people not to follow other people’s advice. However, if you follow this advice then you wouldn’t follow my advice…which would mean that you actually should follow my advice. What a conundrum!

Everyone loves to give advice; we all know how others should live their lives even better than we know how to live our own, and it’s no different with our art. Everyone wants to tell us how we should process our images and how we should best achieve success. The advice givers are good people, who are well intentioned and who have had some wonderful life experiences, so why shouldn’t you follow their advice?

Because their vision is different from your vision and their definition of success may be different than yours. Can you imagine what might happen if I was inclined to give you lots of advice and you were inclined to follow it? One day you might wake up to the realization that your images bore a striking resemblance to mine and that you had met every one of the goals that I had set for myself! It’s not that my advice is bad, it simply may not be right for you.

Over the years I’ve come to learn that the only opinion that really matters is your own. Let me illustrate with two examples of some well-intentioned advice that I’ve received:

Never Center the Image!

A few years back my friend and mentor saw my latest image entitled The Angel Gabriel and almost yelled “Never center the image!” I was frequently presenting her with centered images (see above) and she constantly told me that I was breaking one of the rules of photography. I respected her position and experience but the advice just didn’t  feel right to me. However since she was the teacher and I the student, I reluctantly re-cropped the image as she had advised… and I just hated it! It literally made me ill to look at it and at that moment I realized that this was my image and my vision and no one could tell me how it should look. It wasn’t that her experience wasn’t good, but it came from her vision and it wasn’t right for me.

It is critically important that you find your own vision and once you do, you’ll find less and less of a need to ask others for advice about your work.

Large Prints, Small Editions:

I have a friend who is attempting to earn his living from his photography. He has chosen to offer large prints and very small editions (as low as 12). He believes this will maximize his profits and thinks my open editions and lower prices is a bad idea. He has frequently tried to convince me that I am making a mistake and that I should follow his example.  

The problem with his advice is that he and I have different definitions of success and therefore different goals. I am not trying to earn a living from my art, I wouldn’t be happy in the Gallery environment and I couldn’t stand the thought of printing only 12 images and then never any more! This formula would not work for me, even though it may work for him.

It is so important that you define success for yourself. What do you want from your art? What will bring lasting satisfaction? In five years, what would you like to accomplish with your art? Only once you know the answer to these questions, can you set your own course with confidence.


So listen to others and consider their ideas, but do not follow someone’s advice simply because they have more experience than you, create beautiful images or are  successful.  When it comes to your vision and what you want from your art, nobody is better qualified than you to make those decisions.  

There is tremendous confidence and strength that comes from finding your own vision and knowing what you want from your art. Life becomes so much easier, so much simplier and so much quieter. 

Sep 28 2009

“Never ask people, not about your work.” Howard Roark

Last night I watched one of my favorite movies; The Fountainhead.   Gary Cooper stars as architect Howard Roark, a stubborn and uncompromising individualist.  His designs are uniquely his, rejecting tradition and the opinions of the experts.  Because of these attitudes, he is a threat to those who require subservience.

As I seek to create, to find my own vision, Howard Roark has the ideals and standards that I admire; strong, confident, independent, and uniquely creative.

The title of this blog is “Never ask people, not about your work” and is a quote from The Fountainhead.  Roark had attended college with a fellow architect who’s idea of success was to gain the approval and admiration of others.  He came to Howard to ask him what he thought of his work:

“If you want my advice, Peter,” he said at last, “you’ve made a mistake already.  By asking me, by asking anyone.  Never ask people, not about your work. Don’t you know what you want?  How can you stand it, not to know?”

Roark’s designs were not based on what the public wanted, and he didn’t judge his success by how others reacted to it.  He had a vision and it was unimportant what others thought.  In another scene Roark declares:

“I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist.

The exact opposite of Howard Roarke is Ellsworth M. Tooey, an architectural critic who depends on the opinions of others for his power.  He fears individualistic thinking because he knows that such men cannot be controlled.  Here is Tooey’s thoughts on art:

“Artistic value is achieved collectively by each man subordinating himself to the standards of the majority.”

Because Tooey fears Roark’s individualism and refusal to subordinate himself to Tooey, he attempts to destroy him by ensuring that no one will commission him to design a building.  After having successfully accomplishing this, Tooey has a chance encounter with Roark and wants to hear Roark acknowledge him:

“We’re alone.  Why don’t you tell me what you think of me?”

“But I don’t think of you”

Tooey is devastated, for his self worth is measured externally by how others view him.  Roark gave him the worse blow he could have received, he didn’t hate or admire Tooey, he didn’t think of him at all.

Roark is ultimately confident and is not constrained by others, he knows that he can do anything that he wants.  In this exchange, Roark’s is being expelled from college for not conforming to his professor’s views on architectural design.  The College Dean tells Roark that no one will allow him to design such work:

“My dear fellow, who will let you [design such work]?”

“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

This is how I wish to live my art; Independently, strongly, passionately and confidently. My only measure of success shall be against my own internal standards.  I simply seek to develop my talent and to express myself through my art.

To be able to do that, and to be true to myself, is success.